By John Vander Meulen

It happens to all of us at one time or another. Maybe not much anymore, or the experience not as drastic in this age of On Star, cell phones and more sophisticated auto engineering. Sloppy repairs, neglected maintenance, running out of fuel, flat tires, do it yourself repairs; worn out parts, uninformed owners…the list is endless. It’s not all negative though; you learn something new and get to meet all kinds of interesting people. Working, once with a young lady engineer from the “La Belle Province“, I inquired as to which type of vehicle she was driving, figuring I would get a detailed mechanical description… “The red one in the parking lot, she replied.” Ok, I thought, remind me not to ask you anything too complicated.

September of 1969 found me in Buffalo visiting friends. The AMX had 12,000 miles on the clock. Negotiating downtown on a Saturday afternoon, on the way to the suburb of Hamburg, we stopped at a small plaza. After parking, a young lad of about 10 excitedly told me what I didn’t want to hear…your car is leaking! Sure enough, the water pump was leaking through the shaft seal. Spillage was prominent immediately after shutting down the engine due to internal coolant pressure. While running, coolant leakage was minimized by centrifugal force, keeping the loss nominal. The “Good Gulf” attendant in Hamburg was a nice sort of guy and in retrospect, bore a striking resemblance to Al Bundy on “Married with Children”. “Needs a special short shaft pump” he said after making a few calls. “Gotta come from Kenosha and won’t be here till Monday”. Had I been on the “right” side of the border, I might have attempted the ride home, stopping occasionally to refill. My companion dropped me off at the bus station. Not sure what it is about “motor coach depots”, but I instinctively put my wallet in my front pocket. Returning the following weekend, I had picked up a replacement pump ($26) at Wellman Motors in Oshawa, just to be on the safe side. Kept the spare in the trunk. Subsequent pumps usually lasted only about 20,000 miles, the rear seal usually being the culprit.

Fast forward some years and adventures with the car pool. One member of the group, also with Quebecoise origins, tended to drive more “emotionally” than the rest of us Anglos, probably due to his Gallic nature. This predisposed his automobiles to premature wear and tear and coupled with zero maintenance, we enjoyed a variety of transportation over the years. One particular gem was called a Ford “Mystique”. It tended to lose power gradually and when unable to keep up with traffic, we pulled over to the shoulder, shut the car off, waited several minutes and started it again. It worked! Not sure why but the rumour was the catalytic converter(s) were plugged & since the new Kawartha Casino had just opened up, they weren’t about to be replaced. Problems mounted - transmission, alternator - finally sent the Mystique to its reward. It was replaced by a 1995 Buick. Reliable transportation at last! Remember what I said about meeting new people….most of us are eager to help a fellow citizen in distress especially when it gives us a chance to use our new cell phone. Somehow helps to justify the exorbitant cell phone rates we pay. (I used it for an emergency)! This was the case when the torque convertor went out on the Buick on the way to work….no muss…no fuss…just like landing a small plane …we glided to the shoulder. Sticking my thumb out, the second car stopped. One advantage of the ubiquity of cell phones is that I didn’t have to buy one myself. Another had a minor vision variance which made it difficult for him to accurately judge speed and distance. En route to work one Sunday @ 0500 hrs, we began to hydroplane on a slushy secondary road. The 97 Tercel buried itself into the ditch after a long sideways slide that seemed to take forever.

One autumn, we decided to use the spouse’s vehicle to tour the Blue Ridge Parkway. Driving her auto very infrequently, I had noticed an unusual bearing hum coming from the engine. Removing the serpentine belt I tried to wiggle the water pump shaft, but it seemed ok. The power steering setup was off slightly, different configuration, so I suspected it of being the culprit. We stopped to visit friends in Duchess County, halfway between Albany and NYC, along the scenic Hudson River Valley. The “hum” had a “Stockholm Syndrome“ effect. We bonded. It became friendly. We arrived in Front Royal, Va., Shenandoah National Park, the entrance to the parkway. The hum had become a low growl. Now any of you who have driven the Blue Ridge Parkway know there are no services. It’s recommended that your car be in good mechanical condition to avoid breakdowns. Fuel, food and accommodation are obtained in the towns in the valleys below. Spending the night in Roanoke, Virginia, I contemplated visiting a GM dealership. Only a fleeting thought at that. Why waste a day. We exited the parkway in Asheville, NC and headed for Myrtle Beach. Driving Interstate 20 in the smoker’s paradise of South Carolina, we were on Interstate 20, halfway between Columbia and Interstate 95. The traffic was moving at about 75 mph. Suddenly the hum stopped…like losing a friend. The “charge” light came on…great I thought, lost the drive belt so ‘hot’ isn’t far behind. Being mostly a rural area, I noticed a motel sign in the distance and pulled in. Upon shutting down, the overheated coolant made regurgitating noises, the water pump plate converter and serpentine belt lying on the bottom engine cover. The pump shaft had broken off. As I contemplated the cost and the tow to Florence, SC about 30 miles distant, the motel manager suggested a garage “over the bridge”. A dead ringer for Dukes of Hazard’s “Cooter “ arrived shortly with an ancient tow truck from the town of Bishopville, about a mile away. “We’ll have it ready in the mornin” he said “and call you”. I thought “good luck”. Cadillac 4.9, FWD water pumps have an extension and because of space restrictions (pump tip is only ¾ inch from the frame) are particularly difficult to change. The wife and I had dinner at the adjoining restaurant in the company of a group of African-American agricultural workers. We stood out like a couple of honest politicians. “Cooters” boss, an elderly gentleman who resembled “Doc” on the old “Gunsmoke” series picked me up the next morning. Cash, no credit card, Bank and ATM across the street. Doc’s wife had friends in Nova Scotia and no, it wasn’t near Ontario. Friendly folks there were, sketching directions to I-95 and Myrtle Beach as if we were intergalactic travelers not yet having mastered Earth road maps. After an uneventful week in Myrtle Beach, we headed home. Upon exiting to a rest stop on I-40 the exhaust pipe snapped inches from the exhaust manifold. We were directed to a garage and rumbled into the town of Warsaw, SC. Spanish was the language of choice. The paper thin metal was unweldable , the entire exhaust system removed, the catalytic converter temporarily discarded and a new piece was grafted in. My attentiveness caught the youngest of the Central American foursome rewelding the exhaust system upside down. The tailpipe would have been pointing up. The yard was littered with automobile engines. I thought… these guys are either really good and have a thriving business or they make a lot of mistakes. We made a bee-line for home.

2011 AMO Plus Christmas Party

  THE JUICE JOINT WAS JUMPING the annual AMO Plus Christmas Party, Nov 26th, held at Jodee and Barb Scott’s place in Peterborough. Hosted by Rosie Marie, the Joint’s owner and Cindy Butt, the cigarette girl; such notables are Notorious Nick Nemetz, the North Side Mob Boss with his new fiancé Molly Moll; Mayor Biggs and his formidable wife Mabel; Chief Cameron, the Chief of Police and Hal Hollywood, the Movie Director attended the event.

Everyone was making Whoopee and the hooch was flowing free thanks to Bernie Booze, the bootlegger. It was noted that some scratch was passing hands as Cy Ramsey, the Juice Joint’s Bouncer tried to ensure his position in the mob. Dina Diva, the Juice Joint Singer and Molly were vying for a spot in Hal’s new movie. Natalie Nemetz, Nick’s sister was trying to make sure her best friend Dina would get the part. Gino Gin, the Bartender, and Flirty Flapper, a patron, were also seen greasing palms in support of their favourites.

Rosie asked Nick to make a toast. All of a sudden the lights went out, there was a shot and when the lights came on Nick was lying dead on the floor! P.I. Pinkerton started the investigation by outlining the body in white tape and questioning the guests. Southside Sal, the South Side Mob Boss seemed the obvious choice for the crime but everyone knew that Mugsy Malone, Nick’s right-hand man was also real interested in moving up. Flora Nemetz-Gadora, Nick’s ex-wife was also a suspect as she hadn’t gotten over Nick’s divorcing her after she caught him cheating AND she had shifted her interests to Sal. But as the evidence piled up, P.I. Pinkerton put together a different picture.

It seems Chief Cameron was on Nick’s “payroll”; the gun that killed Nick was confiscated in a police raid and Chief Cameron would have been the only one attending the party who had access to it; and a note that was found in Sal’s pocket – hinting at the dirty deed, had the initials CR – which initially were thought to be Cy Ramsey but turned out to be the Chief’s initials – for Cameron Rottier – found on a file of the Chief’s. So the Chief was arrested for the crime!

The Smoking Gun Award for Super Sleuth went to Mary Vander Meulen. The Dressed to Kill Award was graciously accepted by Barb van der Veen. The Drama Queen Award was presented to Roberta Sommerville . And last but not least, Mr. Money Bags Award was received by Sonya Freelen.

At great time was had by all. Everyone got in to the “swing” of things. The supper following had a variety of taste to delight the pallet and the Secret Santa gift exchange was a hoot.

Thanks to everyone for making the night a “Bees Knees” event. Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to all!

Rosie Marie (Jodee Scott)

New Grandbaby Freelen

By Gary Freelen

baby-chase-freelen-103We had an early delivery that occurred this weekend, and it was a little (7lb 12oz little) unexpected. Chase Freelen was unveiled to the world on Sept. 5 at 07:34. He shares the same birthday as his mother, Carly – who celebrated Labour Day a little differently than usual and indicated she was having a good ‘birthday’ even after all of this took place. Carly and Chase are doing fine, and Matt – will work to recalibrate his sleeping pattern after being up all night on Sunday/Monday. I wish him well on that, as we have already experienced the strong lungs of Chase. He can whoop it up already!

Sonia and I are extremely proud and excited to have held Chase yesterday. I still have a good cradle in my arms and a sway that can put a baby to sleep. He looks exactly like Matt at that age. He is sooooooo beautiful! I have attached a picture.





First Impressions

Written by By John vander Meulen

When the AMX was first introduced, it was 1968, a different world to be sure. Common expressions used were “Book’em Dano”, “you’ve come a long way baby,”. Charleton Heston was mired in monkey business on “Planet of the Apes” and that years’ hotties were Barbara Eden, Jane Fonda and Raquel Welch. The Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup and the Detroit Tigers won the World Series. Cost of a Superbowl ad…$54G’s….compared to today’s $2.6 Million for 30 seconds…so you know it was a long time ago. The economy was on a tear and President Nixon removing the US dollar from the Gold Standard was still three years away, giving us the mess we are in today.

Two-seater cars at the time were predominately of British, Italian and German origin. Some with beautiful lines,….as they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder… Bug-eyed Sprites, Austin-Healys, Morris Garage (MG), Jaguars, Alfa-Romeos, Porches and Karmann-Ghias to name a few. British mechanical engineering tended to be, shall we say, somewhat controversial when it came to reliability. It’s said that having one British engineer on the job was ok but having more than one resulted in immediate lack of consensus. Lucas, (loose, unsoldered connections and splices) “ Prince of Darkness” supplied British auto electronics. A tool kit was a must and defective mechanical parts were not always redesigned. Ordering a new windshield- wiper motor for a Jaguar would give you the same item with the same fault. The North American rust belt was not kind and auto body corrosion was severe. Alfa finally stopped importing cars into Canada due to the word “biodegradable”. For auto manufacturers to make it big, you needed access to the North American market.

This was the world in which the AMX was introduced. Demographics indicated only 3% of the car buying public in 1968 would buy a 2-seater. PM magazine did an AMX owners survey based on 1.4 million miles driven. A Massachusetts advertising man says “just sitting on the street it looks like it’s doing 100 mph…(with stripes 120). A young computer clerk loved the “continental lines”. I didn’t know they had computers in 1968….perhaps laying the groundwork for Vic 20’s and Commodore 64’s. Owners complained about the lack of vent windows, handy if you were a smoker. A good vent window could suck the ash off your Export “A” cigarette from a foot away. On the bright side the side windows leaked so bad it was almost like still having them. Complaints ranged from droopy headliners to poor fitting rugs. Quipped a research mechanic, “the interior must have been bought at the Salvation Army and installed by deranged monkeys.” Perhaps he had taken the family to see “Planets of the Apes” earlier in the week and got the lowdown on how a Simian assembly line works. A New York steel company employee complained “the interior is put together quite sloppily….I found numerous screws loose or stripped.” Ok, I concur. I disassembled my interior once and had parts left over that wouldn’t fit anywhere. Drywall screws will do in a pinch. One owner suggested “milking stools could be used in the back for passengers”. Perhaps he was interviewed in “Americas Dairyland”. (You know why a milking stool only has three legs? The cow has the “udder”.) A West Virginia mechanic says his dog, a German Shepherd rides in the back and loves it and its ok with other assorted animals, kids and sports equipment. I had no idea there was that much room back there! A fun loving Tennessee physician says his three kids ride better and happier in the back of their AMX than in his 63 Chevy!… and besides, children’s car seats and seat belts are for sissies. “Needs a sporty grab handle” declares an Ohio draughtsman. Never could figure that one out. Grab handles are a must when riding the subway, especially when standing , and if slightly intoxicated ,prevents you from falling on the person sitting beside you during sudden stops and starts….(I think I know that one from experience). Aren’t seat belts supposed to properly secure you?….maybe seatbelt usage was slow to catch on. The only passenger who ever used my grab handle was an elderly uncle who had never been in anything faster than a Morris Minor. Poor fellow, he was prone to seizures, more so when in the car with me.

Owners found their hoods were acting as trampolines but “have learned to live with it and lower the hood with more care”. Said PM at the time “most owners adjust to the fact their cars are not perfect”. If you think about it, that’s an amazing statement! It was this kind of quality mediocrity the Japanese capitalized on. Can you imagine that scenario today? You take delivery of your new $50G 2011 Lincoln MKX AWD, the headliner droops, carpet doesn’t fit, the hood caves and the windows whistle. What do you say….hey, don’t worry about it, I realize my car isn’t perfect! Not likely! Seventy-seven percent picked the AMX because of the style and 72% took the 4 speed option. Due to “long throw” complaints, the original shifter was replaced by the Hurst. Eight percent thought the car was “comfortable” and 15% were impressed by fuel economy. Sixty one percent picked the 390 option. I disagree with both. I can tell if its head or tails when I run over a nickel and with the 3.54 rear end and premium fuel, economical perhaps, if compared to a cube van. Five percent wanted a bigger engine option. The AMX was built for the hot rodder. If you didn’t find it fast enough there was always a chance to buy one of the 100 Hemi Super Stock Dodge Darts built that year. They would e.t. in the 10’s right out of the box. The 390 weighed in at 579 lbs which was something of an achievement (less than 600 lbs.) Ford’s 390 weighed in at 620 lbs, Chev’s 396 at 771 and the Mopar 383 at 649.

Calculated in 2011 dollars, the AMX base price would be $21,316 compared to $16,021 for a Rambler 440 station wagon. Highway gas mileage with a 390, about 15.5 mpg or 7 km per litre. In comparison a VW Jetta diesel comes in at about 19 kpl. Five bucks today will buy you 4 litres, in 1968, about 60.

On a related note, AMC brass reported pleased and proud of the record established by its Javelin in its first year of major league racing competition. Entered in 12 of the 13 race Trans-American series run by the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), one or the other of the two car Javelin team finished second six times, third twice, fourth twice and fifth four times. At least one Javelin finished all 12 of the races entered. Principal Javelin drivers were Peter Revson and George Follmer.




Astro Spiral Javelin

Some of the brightest minds at the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory used a computer program to work out this almost unbelievable stunt.  Using precise mathematical calculations, they would drive an AMC Javelin over a specially designed ramp at a speed they determined would be sufficient to make it corkscrew in flight, turning completely upside down and around in midair before landing upright on all four wheels.  They demonstrated it at the Houston Astrodome before a crowd of 45,000 people.  It worked flawlessly and thus the Astro Spiral Javelin was born.  Special lettering on one side of the car was painted upside down so it could be read while in the middle of turning over in midair!

Astro Spiral Javelin

AMC fans got to see the same trick done in the James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun, though not with a Javelin.  In the movie, Bond steals a Hornet Hatchback right off the showroom floor in order to chase the bad buys.  To catch up he ran it at high speed up and over a broken down bridge - and if you look closely you'll notice that the two ends of the bridge duplicate the special Astro Spiral ramps used in the Javelin stunt.

Stunt in James Bond movie
stunt in James Bond movie

Many people who have seen the movie think the stunt is merely trick photography:  not realizing it was a real car making a real jump!

My Introduction into American Motor-ing

John Vander Meulen

The fall of 1965 had me with a total of $550. No chump change then. Eager for freedom and to break the yoke of parental confinement I looked to buy my first car. Ontario Motor Sales in Oshawa had two in my price range: a 57 Caddy and a 1960 Rambler Six. I went for the Rambler. They wanted $700..I offered $550. Ok kid, said the salesman, “no warranty”. It was burgundy, 4 door, cloth interior, 3 on the column, famous “Weather Eye” heater and damaged fender. I drove it home. No safety or E- test required. It had sold new for $2100.

At the time, autos manufactured in North America could be described as “Queen Size”, the physical dimensions increasing every model year. Ramblers were considered compact by comparison. AMC TV commercials featured “six large Raccoon Wrestlers” emerging from a Rambler to illustrate that the interior dimensions of their cars were equal to the big three.

The freedom of my own car gave me the biggest rush since owning my first firearm at age 14. (all that power) and yes, I still have it. Some minor mechanical problems occurred. The fuel line tended to freeze up in the winter and the voltage regulator for the generator went south. Had to buy one new - $16 nylon tire from Canadian Tire, (no sales tax yet). In cold weather it would develop a flat spot from sitting but once under way it would “thump, thump, thump for about ½ a km before it rounded out again.

One year after I purchased the car it developed a bad bearing knock….probably exasperated by my continuing to drive it. I could be wrong but I don’t recall this model having an oil filter. I got it repaired at the Sunoco station at the corner of Hopkins Street and Hwy 2 in Whitby (now a Sub shop) for two weeks wages..ouch.

Moving up in the corporation and with my hourly rate increased to $2 an hour I felt like I had won the lottery. It was time to trade. At the time the stigma of owning an AMC was that you were “married to it” and got your best trade- in value by buying another one. It was early 1967 and AMC was doing well. A new line of engines, the Marlin, a new dealership in Whitby, (now Nurse Motors) and air conditioning standard in all new Ambassadors. I went shopping. Trent Rambler in Peterborough had recently opened a branch dealership in Bowmanville. Wanting to take a bite out of the local car buying market they located on Hwy #2 beside the zoo, same side, eastbound. They also sold British Leyland including the Sunbeam Alpine and Sunbeam Tiger. My timing was perfect, Rambler American prices were factory reduced to about $2400. I ordered a 290, 2V, heavy duty suspension, 3 on the column, larger tires and a radio. Six weeks delivery from Keno

sha. Inflation was modest. The sales price of new cars didn’t increase much from year to year and when they did, it was news. The Arab oil embargo was still five years away. The American was almost identical to the one owned by club member Al Rodgers. It’s said that you associate certain hit songs you hear on the radio with pivotal moments in your life. This time “The Happening” by the Supremes, was playing on CHUM radio en route to take delivery of my new car.

The driving was great. The thrill of a new car. Gasoline was 33 cents a gallon or 8 cents a litre…full serve at the pumps and lots of free giveaways and promotions. Gas “wars” were commonplace. Blue Sunoco, Esso Tigers, Good Gulf and Super Shell kept one mobile. Day three the horn stuck while cruising through Brooklin. Someone stopped to assist and since it was difficult to discuss the situation orally he simply pulled the horn wires off for me. Undeterred I waited a day and then reconnected. Two weeks later at 2AM while all asleep the horn sounded while the car was at home parked in the driveway. The neighbours were not amused. I had friends in Kingston so the miles accumulated quickly. There was a three week beer strike in Ontario in July, 1968 and we made several runs from Kingston to St. Polycarpe, Quebec. Not only did this experience hone my entrepreneurial skills but also helped to relieve the distress of the thirsty locals where I was staying. The trunk was quite spacious and would hold a considerable quantity of wobbly pops. The nineteenth century Ontario liquor laws in force were quite strict and when transporting alcohol you were to go directly from the store to your place of residence, no stopping in transit and the merchandise was not to be not stored within reach of the driver.

My aftermarket tachometer indicated 4500 rpm at 100 mph or 160 kph. Traffic volumes were much lighter on the 401 at that time and there seemed to be a more mature attitude to traffic law enforcement. No tasers, phasers, radar, helicopters, cameras, shoot your dog, everyone’s a terrorist, threatening “road to perdition signs” if you went 5mph over the limit and “stunt driving” fines. The 507 mile long 401 highway was once considered the longest racetrack in the world, southwestern Ontario in the Windsor to London corridor especially so. Travelling this section I’ve had kids wave to me from the family Buick station wagon drifting by at the century mark. Now we know where all the 2.56 gear ratio rear ends were being sold.

The service manager looked after my problems, a 50,000 mile powertrain warranty being in effect. I met him again 20 years later managing a McKerlie-Millen auto parts store. Speaking of managers, the son of the AMC president from the late 50’s to early 60’s is now running for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. He’s the only man named after a “glove”.

The weight distribution with the V8 was not favourable to driving in snow and one got stuck very easily, even with snow tires. You were better off with the 199 or 232 six. The car was easy to maintain, no computers, smog plumbing and fuel pumps in the tank. With no radiator recovery system, it tended to “froth’ a bit after a hot summer run. No synchromesh in 1st gear meant a full stop before shifting down.

John Vander Meulen's car
John Vander Meulen's 1969 AMX

By late 1968, muscle cars began to become more popular. The Javelin and the AMX were introduced. The dealer allowed me to test drive their first AMX, 343 automatic. I was impressed. I shopped around again. Prices for a Camaro started around three thousand plus whatever performance package you wanted, SS 396 Chevelles $4500 and a Plymouth GTX could be had for $4800 plus $900 for the hemi option.

By this time the Bowmanville dealership had expanded and moved into larger “digs” close to the hospital, into a building that had been recently vacated by a Dodge dealership. Cracks were beginning to develop in the relationship between the factory and the dealer. A leading AMC franchise in Willowdale “went Japanese”. The innovative quality ideas of W. Edwards Deming were coming to fruition in Japan, called “Kaizen” or “continuous slow improvement” contributed much to the high tolerances of goods made in Nippon. In contrast, North American assembly line defects were known as “goodies for the dealer”. Isuza-Bellets and Toyota Crowns began to appear on the road.

One day, in early 1969, a salesman friend of mine called and said “we have a new car in the showroom and we’re prepared to make you an offer you can’t refuse".

(John was first recruited by Mr. Perrier in 1979 and over the years been somewhat delinquent in club participation and attendance).